When David Gitomer, Vincent de Paul associate professor, Department of Religious Studies, talks about teaching online, his enthusiasm is barely contained:
“In a typical lecture course, students can hide — there’s little accountability for their participation or for their understanding of the content. But in an online class, they’re engaged: they have to be! From the very beginning, they’re posting, they’re taking diagnostic quizzes, and they’re demonstrating their learning: no one can fake it. My interactions with students are better — more immediate, more one-on-one, and more focused. I think students learn more and retain more.”
Gitomer is one of 273 faculty members who have completed DePaul’s Online Teaching Series (DOTS), a professional development program that teaches faculty how to design and deliver successful online and hybrid classes. In 2012, DOTS won the Sloan Consortium Award, which recognizes universities with outstanding online training programs. Sharon Guan, director of Faculty Instructional Technology Services (FITS), shares some specific criteria behind the award:
“In choosing the winner, Sloan Consortium looks at concrete results. The judges want to know about the impact of the program on the university’s online learning initiatives, and our numbers prove that DOTS is really making a difference. In the past five years, we’ve seen a 167 percent increase in the number of online courses we offer and a 413 percent increase in online enrollment. Just as important, DOTS consistently gets a 95 percent satisfaction rating from faculty.”
DOTS itself models a well-designed hybrid class, and Guan says why that’s important: “Every piece of content we put in DOTS, every activity, every learning strategy, is something that we want the faculty to duplicate in their own online or hybrid courses. We want faculty to take the course and love it — to love the experience of learning online. An online or hybrid class is not of a lesser quality. In fact, research has proved that adding an online component enhances both teaching and learning. When all or part of a class is online, the teacher can be sure of reaching each student and of tracking each one’s progress.”
Daniel Stanford (pictured above), assistant director of FITS, describes how DOTS works: “The first week of DOTS is online. Participants read about Quality Matters, a set of best practices in online course design; they look at samples of good online and hybrid courses; then, they post their opinions and ideas on a discussion board. After that we have face-to-face class, where they begin developing an actual course. We provide a lot of support from expert instructional designers — we want our faculty to do amazing things with technology. DOTS isn’t just the 36 hours of training. Participants have 18 months to design and deliver an online or hybrid class, and we’re happy to stick with them until that’s done.”
DePaul also provides each DOTS participant with a $1,500 stipend and a technology kit that includes a laptop computer, webcam, headset microphone, and software for online course development.
Guan explains the “end game” for DOTS: “We don’t focus on technology — we focus on learning. We don’t want faculty to think about tools, including textbooks, but about what they want students to know or be able to do by the end of the term. Then, they can take a fresh look at how they reach these learning goals. It’s ‘reverse engineering’ course design. In the beginning, we thought that participants would be turned off if we brought up pedagogy, but it turns out that’s their favorite part!”
Here are just a few of the DOTS graduates who attest to that:
- “The program has made me rethink how I will teach every class, whether online, hybrid or enhanced-classroom, and has already made me a better teacher.” — Melissa Markley, Driehaus College of Business
- “The community of colleagues and quality of instruction opened my eyes to a whole new way of engaging students.” — Leah Bryant, College of Communication
- “Not only has the DOTS equipped me with tools that will help my online teaching, but it’s also given me grist for the mill to think about in my face-to-face classes.” — Joby Gardner, College of Education
- “I’m filled with ideas to move on and make what I thought was already a good courses an even better course.” — Judy Friedman, College of Communication
GianMario Besana, associate vice president for Academic Affairs-Online Learning, credits many in the development of DOTS:
“As we moved into the online space, we knew our faculty had to do it really well — and that meant we needed a solid, quality training program. Luckily, we had the political willingness in Academic Affairs to devote resources to the initiative.
"Then, we saw a wonderful collaboration, as the creation of DOTS brought together expertise and talent from FITS, technical support from Media Production and Training, curriculum planning support from many associate deans, and contributions from the online learning directors of several schools and colleges.
"DOTS belongs to all of DePaul.”